PESHAWAR, Pakistan – On Wednesday, Peshawar held a solemn ceremony to commemorate the victims of a deadly terrorist assault on the Army Public School (APS) on Dec. 16, 2014, when Pakistani Taliban extremists killed 134 children and 19 adults. It marked the worst tragedy in the nation’s history, as the terrorists hit the most innocent and valuable target: Pakistan’s children.
Regardless of their social status or religion and other differences, all Pakistanis unified due to such a tremendous attack. They held vigils in the main cities, Christian communities decided not to wear new clothes for Christmas as a way to express solidarity with the victim’s families and there were protests everywhere. Even though the country has seen many terrorist assaults, this time it was a grief so hard to carry and they vowed to be merciless and take revenge, aiming to prevent such atrocities from happening again.
This week Pakistan will be mourning the victims of the APS massacre in vigils, concentrations and concerts. However, the way they have been handling the extremism problem does not seem to be effective enough to say something has changed.
It is true that as a consequence of the tragedy and the anger citizens, government and military establishment have taken action against extremist militants. The military have begun an offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan, as they have lifted a moratorium on executions in terrorist prosecutions and the country’s Constitution has been modified to refer civilian terrorism suspects to military courts.
Just a month after the tragedy, the government launched a 20-point National Action Plan to try eliminate militancy and protect religious minorities. Moreover, there is a partnership with the UN’s Safe School Initiative to enhance security of schools throughout Pakistan.
An estimated of 100,000 people have been put under arrest. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif remarked on Wednesday the government’s achievements in terms of counter-terrorism actions. He said that military operations has managed to destroy many terrorist hideouts, training camps and infrastructure. Militants have taken about 90 lives monthly this year, compared to 136 in 2014. But, have they actually solved anything?
In spite of the military efforts to brake the back of the terrorists the problem’s source has not been properly addressed. The actual struggle Pakistan should be dealing with consists of extremist ideologies among current “normal” people. A problem that has been evolving for so many years cannot be solved quickly. For decades religious intolerance has been allowed to spread throughout the country, starting with the fact that non-Muslims cannot become president of Pakistan. The Constitution and laws of the country are based on exclusion and prejudice, penalizing some religious groups harder than others. The very school system has been designed to promote rejection against people who differ from Islam statutes, leading to extremely conservative attitudes that could hurt minorities.
Recently, the Pew Research Center released data that shows how extremism has increased among ordinary Pakistanis. The survey revealed that Pakistan is the only nation with high Muslim population that does not significantly reject Islamic State. Only 28 percent of people in this country specifically reported not being in favor of the terror group, whereas an alarming 62 percent decided not to express a definite opinion.
The problem’s source is not even extremism. It is fear
Pakistani political establishment refuses to take severe actions against extremism because they are afraid of having the highly conservative people to turn against them. They are afraid of giving the impression that they are attacking Islam. Maulana Abdul Aziz the Lal Masjid, the cleric who publicly refused to denounce the APS attack, has since expressed his support for the Taliban, breaking the government’s command. Nevertheless, only a handful of people dare to confront him, in spite of the fact that he represents everything the state supposedly intends to suppress. Fear of expressing anti-Muslim ideas, fear of having to go through another APS-like tragedy in the future, fear of dealing with the very source of the problem. Fear is what Pakistan needs to overcome, but first they have to acknowledge it.
Source: Huffington Post